44th FIDE Chess Olympiad inaugurated in Chennai, India

44th FIDE Chess Olympiad inaugurated in Chennai, India

The 44th FIDE Chess Olympiad was inaugurated on 28 July at the Nehru Indoor Stadium in Chennai with fanfare, in the presence of Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, and MK Stalin, the Chief Minister of the state of Tamilnadu, the main promoter of the event. The evening witnessed a march past the participating teams and was a spectacle of sound and music to behold.

A total of 187 teams in the open section will compete for the Hamilton-Russell Cup, and 162 teams in the women’s section for the Vera Menchik Cup, while the best combined results for a nation in both sections will decide the winner of the Nona Gaprindashvili Trophy.

The 44th FIDE Chess Olympiad and the Women’s Chess Olympiad are over-the-board team events. National chess federations compete in classic games for gold medals, trophies and the title of the strongest chess nation in the world. The event consists of an 11-round Swiss tournament; each player from a national team plays against another player from the opposing national team. Teams receive “game points” for winning or tying matches and “match points” for winning or tying a match. The team with the most match points for each section will be the champions of their section, with a third prize going to the team with the most points from both sections combined.

Participation – All registered minus one:

The open part of the Olympiad will contain a total of 187 teams, with the USA, India-1 and Norway as the top three. The number of teams participating in the open section was reduced by one as Pakistan pulled out of the competition at the last minute, even after their team traveled all the way from Pakistan and reached Mahabalipuram itself. Earlier, a Facebook post by Amer Karim, captain of the team, had confirmed their arrival in India:

Pakistan’s chess team at Amritsar airport waiting for the flight to Chennai. Photo: Amer Karim/Facebook.

In a press release, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized India for “[choosing] to politicize this prestigious international sporting event by sending the torch relay of this event through [Kashmir],” referring to the torch passing through Srinagar, the capital of the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, on June 21. The Indian foreign ministry spokesman in return criticized Pakistan for “politicizing a prestigious international event.”

The territory of Kashmir has been a flash point between the two neighboring countries and the cause of three major wars and several armed skirmishes in the last eight decades.

This last-minute withdrawal has also resulted in a difficult situation for the hosts, as India fielded its third team to balance the odd number of entries in early July, after the deadline for registration expired on 27 June. draw, the total number of entries has again become an odd number, with the first round of the tournament scheduled for July 28.

The women’s section will feature a total of 162 teams, with India-1, Ukraine and Georgia as the top three.

All roads lead to Mahabalipuram:

Driving from the city of Chennai to the historic city of Mahabalipuram (or “Mamallapuram” as it was known in ancient times) through the East Coast Road, which starts at the southeastern edge of Chennai, the impressive preparations for the Olympics are evident. . Every hundred meters there is a policeman for security, to oversee the smooth flow of traffic – apparently a total of more than 4000 police personnel are issued at Mahabalipuram itself, as I later find from police officials present at the site. There are several billboards and murals along the way that welcome the participants and highlight the event.

All roads lead to Mahabalipuram. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

In fact, the blitz to promote the Olympics has been in full swing in the city and elsewhere for months now. The most attractive of the spectacles has been the transformation of the iconic Napier Bridge of Chennai:

The location is featured prominently in the promotional song produced by the Tamilnadu government, composed by Academy Award winner and music composer ARRahman with appearances by many of the Indian players:

The mascot Thambi (a Tamil word meaning “younger brother”) is a perpetual presence across the city, with the slogan Namma Chennai, Namma Chess (‘This is our Chennai, our chess’).

A promotional SpiceJet flight with the mascot and tagline, providing a free ride for school children. Photo: Office of the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu.

The hand of government

How did the state of Tamilnadu pull off this miracle of preparing for the Olympics in just four months? “What we touched turned to gold!” gushed Bharat Singh Chauhan, the secretary of the All India Chess Federation (AICF) at the first press conference, crediting MK Stalin solely for bringing the event to Mahabalipuram. He had earlier confessed that the Chief Minister had approved the plan to host the Olympics in Tamilnadu in just a day’s time, with GM Srinath Narayanan instrumental in reaching the proposal to his office through state government bureaucrats.

The press conference is in progress, with Judit Polgar, Sanjay Kapoor, Arkady Dvorkovich and Bharat Singh Chauhan on the podium: Photo: Madelene Belinki/FIDE.

GM Srinath Narayanan at the press conference. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

Stalin approved an initial budget of about ten million US dollars (about 750,000,000 Indian rupees at the time) for the event, which has now risen to more than $13.3 million (INR 1,000,000,000), apart from the publicity expenditure of the authorities and the grant to travel to Chennai given to many of the teams by FIDE and the organizers of the Olympiad, Chauhan confessed.

Located at a distance of about 40 miles from Chennai, Mahabalipuram is a UNESCO heritage site with beaches and resorts. The state government blocked around 1,800 rooms near the city to host the Olympiad, apart from notifying many of its employees from various departments to organize the event. Thus, the volunteers and the authorities constituted a massive workforce for the Olympics at the airport, the hotels and the venue. Predictably, it resulted in happy feedback from many of the participants when they actually arrived in Chennai:

The glittering inaugural function was held in the city of Chennai, attended by Tamil film stars, politicians, media and other prominent citizens of the city.

The final part of the inauguration ceremony, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi receives the Olympic torch from Praggnanandhaa and Gukesh. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Finally, the chess part

Ahead of the Olympiad, a rapid tournament was held in the main hall of the event, with a total of 1,414 participants, with all games from 707 boards broadcast live, creating a record. The event was won by GM Vishnu Prasanna with a perfect score of 9/9, taking home the first prize of INR 5,000,000, approximately $6,300.

Main tournament hall. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Chesskid.com conducted a pre-Olympiad event with GM Viswanathan Anand and GM Akash Ganesan sharing their wisdom with select youngsters.

Favorites – Open Section:

After China – winners in 2014 and 2018 – and non-starter Russia, the USA takes top billing in the open section, which features 187 teams from 185 confederations, a new record for the event. The USA team consists of GM Fabiano Caruana, GM Levon Aronian, GM Wesley So, GM Leinier Dominguez and GM Sam Shankland (Reserve), with an average Elo of 2771. The team is captained by IM John Donaldson. This will be Aronian’s first Olympics representing the United States, having moved from his native Armenia.

The second-seeded India-1 consists of GM Pentala Harikrishna, GM Vidit Gujrathi, GM Arjun Erigaisi, GM Sunilduth Narayanan and GM Krishnan Sasikiran with an average Elo of 2696. The team is captained by Srinath.

The India-1 team with support staff: (from l-r: GMs Vaibhav Suri, Vidit, Narayanan, Arjun, Sasikiran, GM Sankalp Gupta and Srinath. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Notably absent from the top two teams are GM Hikaru Nakamura (USA) and Anand (India). While Nakamura “did not want to play as a reserve”, Anand is interestingly scheduled to feature in the FIDE election to be held during the Olympiad as a vice-president in the team of the current president, Arkady Dvorkovich, hoping “to be part of a brighter and better future for Chess” (Anand).

The most exhausted team at the Olympiad will be France, who will miss the services of GM Alireza Firouzja, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, GM Etienne Bacrot and other grandmasters. Other absentees from various teams include GM Richard Rapport (Hungary), GM Taimur Radjabov (Azerbaijan) and GM Vasyl Ivanchuk (Ukraine).

Favorites – Women’s section:

The women’s section will be drastically affected by the absence of teams from China and Russia, as only four of the top 10 female players in the world will be seen in action. GM Koneru Humpy (India), GM Mariya Muzychuk (Ukraine), GM Nana Dzagnidze (Georgia) and GM Anna Muzychuk (Ukraine) will play for their respective teams.

India is the top seeded team, represented by Humpy, GM Dronavalli Harika, IM R.Vaishali, IM Tania Sachdev and IM Bhakti Kulkarni, with an average rating of 2486.

India Women-1 team with support staff: (from LR GM Swayams Mishra, Vaishali, Kulkarni, Sachdev, Humpy, GM Shyam Sundar and GM Abhijit Kunte (captain). Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Ukraine are the other seeds, with Mariya Muzychuk, Anna Muzychuk, GM Anna Ushenina, IM Nataliya Buksa and IM Lulija Osmak in their ranks, with an average rating of 2478.

The promotion starts on Friday at 15:00 local time. Stay tuned for daily reports on the action.

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